ONE of the most frantic and helter-skelter games of rugby I’ve seen in a while.
Opening-day Six Nations games normally have that little bit of extra dynamism. Here we saw continuous and extended passages of play that left both teams gasping for air. I am by no way suggesting it was error-free and free-flowing, but the enthusiasm, especially from Ireland, was impressive.
The modern-day professional game may well be a far cry from the wild west of the amateur era. Some of the hits that went in during this game were nothing short of mini-car crashes though and the physios will be very busy over the coming days.
Ireland won this game in the opening 20 minutes with some magnificent power plays. Their confidence in their ability to turn possession and territory into scores was as impressive as any Irish side we have seen. Yet at the same time, Wales were very lacklustre and their discipline was appalling.
Three well-worked and converted tries for Ireland in the first quarter left the Welsh players looking like rabbits that were startled in the lights of an oncoming truck. They did have a few opportunities to cross Ireland’s white-wash but the scramble defence was just awesome.
Hugo Keenan, Mack Hanson, and James Lowe worked seamlessly as a back three and their understanding of what was needed to resist Warren Gatland’s primary strike runners of George North and Liam Williams was on the money.
Credit must also go to Ireland’s back row who were not afraid to sacrifice themselves when Wales looked to apply their one-out runners.
Much of the press in the build-up was centred on the second coming of Warren Gatland as the Welsh coach. Having been coached by the New Zealander for a period of my career, I can tell you that if half-time talks had ratings, the one that the Welsh players would have had to endure in this match would be rated 18+.
Gatland doesn’t suffer fools lightly and he expects his players to go well beyond their normal pain threshold, especially when they are playing for their country at home.
To put it mildly, Gatland would not be shy in signalling out individuals if they were lagging behind. Judging from the Welsh players’ reaction as they emerged for the second half, it appeared that Gatland might have given his players a tongue-lashing of biblical proportions.
Maybe if Wales were playing against a lesser organised team they might have scored a few more tries, however, Ireland are extremely well-coached and their confidence is sky-high.
Judging from Ireland’s first-half supremacy, it may have taken a bit longer than expected to nail down their fourth try, but when Josh Van Der Flier sauntered under the posts with less than 10 minutes remaining on the clock, any optimism the Welsh had ended there and then.
Thankfully, Wales did make the second half a better spectacle for their supporters and in the end, both sides ended up scoring a try a piece, albeit the road that lies ahead of Gatland and his coaching staff looks like its going to be a very bumpy one.
An aging cohort of senior players and a union that is bleeding money are just some of the issues that Gatland must overcome if he is to come within sniffing distance of the level of success he achieved in his first occupancy, but thankfully that is not our problem.
Yet another HIA for captain Johnny Sexton is probably Andy Farrell’s biggest injury concern looking ahead to the arrival of the French to Dublin next weekend. You can be sure Ireland won’t dominate the French as they did the Welsh.
Full-back Hugo Keenan was very much a deserving man of the match with number eight Doris running a close second, though I do think that hooker Dan Sheehan was also brilliant.
Sheehan is no Keith Wood, but he is now a vital cog in how this team performs. His throwing is exceptional and his work in the wider channels is very effective.
A four-try bonus point away to Wales is something that most coaches would be delighted with, but I would like to think that Farrell will be looking at this result with a cautionary note because of the issues that Welsh rugby is currently experiencing.
Next week is going to be a completely different challenge and when you see the size of the French players that will be running out in the Aviva, you will understand my concerns.